Buying and Selling
Magic Books

by William M. Klimon

#74, 31 July 2006

Part I: Alternative Approaches

Printer Friendly Article

In Part 1, I described some resources that the serious dealer or collector in antiquarian magic books will want to be familiar with. But, while we can all recognize the names of the classic rarities described in the magic bibliographies - e.g., Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), Samuel Rid's The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine (1614), Hocus Pocus Junior (1634), and Henry Dean's Whole Art of Legerdemain, or, Hocus Pocus in Perfection, which went to sixteen editions from 1727 to 1850 - very few of us will find, sell, or own such material or obtain many of the other items listed in Toole-Stott's bibliography.

Even if you can't buy or sell those rare and expensive classics, you can still pursue the history and bibliography of magic books. The "books-on-books" approach is always popular: Start your collection with some of the bibliographies I discussed in Part I. If, however, you're more interested in narrative, you're in luck because the history of magic has never been taken more seriously. A biennial Conference on Magic History has been held in Los Angeles for the past 15 years, and Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania has sponsored a series of conferences since 1999 on "The Theory and Art of Magic." Now, a similar conference has been inaugurated in Europe, with the first European Congress on "Magie, Histoire & Collections" in Paris last year. But despite this recent academic interest, some of the most interesting contemporary works on magic history have emerged from the community of performers.

Ricky Jay, whose bibliographic and bibliophilic acumen were previously noted, has also produced several important works of magic history. His infamously titled Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women (1986), a rollicking pageant of the history of unusual entertainers, will run $250 and up in first edition. His more recent sequels, Jay's Journal of Anomalies (2001) and Extraordinary Exhibitions (2005), both lavishly illustrated from his own collection, will bring similar prices when signed by the master. But his Magic, Magic Book, a limited-edition fine-press production that combines a history of magic trick books with several artists' reproductions will go for $3,000-$5,000. (Jay's first book, Cards as Weapons [1977], a pseudo-history inspired by his predilection for throwing playing cards, will bring $500 for a fine first edition, and even copies of the paperback reprint edition will bring a few hundred, as they frequently do on eBay.)

Jay's work has inspired other magic historians, like Jim Steinmeyer, a renowned designer of magic illusions, who has worked with Jay, David Copperfield, and Siegfried & Roy, among others. Steinmeyer recently published two histories: Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible (2003), and The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer" (2005), which may eventually rise in monetary value but are sure to have high content value as introductions to their subjects.

Likewise, other new works, like Karl Johnson's The Magician and the Cardsharp: The Search for America's Greatest Sleight-of-Hand Artist (2005), and Peter Lamont's The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick: How a Spectacular Hoax Became History (2005), readily available now, may be a entry to collecting the history of magic.

>>>>> Article continues on next page >>>>>

 Subscribe in a reader